Rival forces of Mike and Buggsy clash with surprising consequences for international tennis, as this rollicking tale concludes
NEW YORK will never forget the night on which that epic match was held. It snowed for the first time that winter, for one thing. It was so cold that you could snap a fingernail against a cop’s badge and the badge would shatter like a gingersnap. So would your fingernail. That’s cold!
We had arranged a big parade, with motorcycle escorts and a fifty-piece brass band. No less a personage than the mayor had been induced to whip out his marching suit and ride in the first car with Bill and Barney, taking bows from all sides. In the car following came the police commissioner and some Chamber of Commerce greeters— don’t ask me how Mike arranged that. Behind that there was a smaller swing band, taking grave liberties with “Dixie” and “The Sidewalks of New York.” After that came Lefty, myself, Mike and Goldie—with Thoiteen and the Babs standing on the running board
Mike was beaming. “I Ioly Catawba !” he kept repeating, ‘‘ain’t this just snmplhing? All this for a sissy game! Will you look at the mob?”
At the 8th Avenue entrance, roped off except for floodlights and a few hundred cops and photographers, we collided with Buggsy's entourage. I instantly suspected that Mike and Buggsy had arranged it, in the interest of drama. But things happened so fast I didn't have a chance to ask. And afterward it didn’t matter.
“They're coming in buses, the pikers,” observed Goldie. “Look at all the swells! I haven’t seen so many silk hats since the funeral of Little Jack Lucas.” It was true. Society had made a gala occasion of the match. Private cars, and buses bulging with Germans from uptown, added to the inferno under the marquee. On it, in lights three feet high, with neon whirligigs, blazed Mike’s modest announcement:
THE GREATEST TENNIS PLAYERS THAT EVER LIVED!
FOR THE WORLD’S P R O F ESSI O NAL CHAMPIONSHIP !
STANDING ROOM $5 —WHILE IT LASTS!”
“Golly,” I said. “That must tickle Vines. Perry,
Budge and Old Man Tilden! They did pretty well here, too.”
"Pikers,” said Mike briefly. “No imagination. They needed managers to manage their managers. They gave it away, compared to what we’re knocking down tonight.”
Not to lx* outdone by the Hollywood "world premières,” we had borrowed a few tricks. One of these was the roping off of a square of fresh concrete in the lobby, so that the footprints of celebrities in attendance might be preserved for posterity. In order to be sure that at least one impression would be more colossal than any California could produce,
I had arranged for Cellofeet Howard, the current heavyweight wrestling champion, to come over and put his foot in it. He worked for Mike, so it wasn’t too difficult.
To the popping of flash bulbs, we indit'd behind a wedge of bluecoats. Thoiteen nudged me. “Foist time these eggs ever did a good turn for me,” he grinned.
All at once we found ourselves face to face with Buggsy’s entourage. The count, in a fur-collared coat with a black Homburg, fresh from some dinner party. Kreutz . . . Farnham . . . packed in with lovely girls with flowers in their hair and scant evening gowns. They gave us a coolish
greeting, while the mayor bawled a few unintelligible words into a microphone. Goldie pinched my arm.
“Well—slap—my—face!” she exclaimed. “If that isn’t Mary Edgerton with that dummy Farnham, I’ll eat my goloshes, buckles and all!” I stood on tiptoe, then looked anxiously around at Bill.
“Bill hasn’t seen her since she got back,” I said. “And if he sees her now —all the sawdust will run out of his seams. Go get him, and keep him looking somewhere else!”
“Too late.” said Goldie, her voice tight. “He’s looking at her and she’s giving him that polite Tlow-have-youbeen?’stuff. The poor crazy kids! I’m so ashamed of my sex I could bawl, Steve. I wouldn’t be young again for a million.”
“Shut up! Here comes a photographer.” That will fix a woman any time. Goldie shook her head. “I can’t bear to look.” “Well, you needn’t look — now. She’s going on in with Harold and that old battle-axe with the lorgnette and the cane.”
“That’s Aunty,” said Goldie. “You know, G. Warfield’s wife—of the Four Hundred.”
“She looks more like the Leviathan, dressed up for her last trip to the bone yard.” I snapped.
“Hush, Steve. Her heart’s very bad. She mustn’t be upset.”
“I’d like to upset her in that patch of concrete, right next to Cellofeet, and her little girl right behind her.”
The principals mumbled something into the mike, though Bill had such a lump in his throat that he couldn’t do better than, “Hel-lo, every-body, Bill Goodall speakin’.” That was all. Barney (prompted by Rosie) did better: “Regards to the Bronx—I’m gonna be in there pitching for you, folks.”
The count and Adolf Kreutz fired guttural greetings at the home folks who were listening via international short wave, then we jammed through to the dressing rooms. On the way, someone from Buggsy’s group shoved Thoiteen flat into the concrete, obliterating many of the priceless mementos. A general fracas was only averted by the police.
OLD-TIMERS blinked at the Garden that night. Under blazing lights, a small patch of taut green canvas was stretched like a drumhead. Around it—almost on it, for Mike had massed his $25 ringside pews like crackers in a box—were jammed the crowds. Back, and up, they rose in tiers until the blurred faces of the top balconies became one with the grey concrete and drifting smoke. Never had there been such a crowd. Nor, for that matter, had there been such prices. Mike tipped back his derby, a smile of ineffable delight illuminating his scarred pan.
“Well,” he sighed, “we made it at last, hey, Irish? Makes me feel good all over just to see this many suckers left in the world. The country can’t be going flop with all this dough on the line, hey?”
Party and factional lines were sharply drawn. The right side of the house was Tennis Association and Yorkville. The club-tie brigade and their ladies sat down front, the reflections from starched shirt bosoms almost blinding in their intensity. Sprinkled among them were Buggsy’s boys, slick-haired greaseballs and ratty gents whose noses bore permenant waves. Stub Farley, resplendent in tuxedo and white carnation, swept down an aisle with blond Elbe Lambern, dancing star of “Oh, No You Don’t !” Buggsy shouldered in with that Spanish dancer from his spot on East 56th. Lola’s gown, when she dropped her ermines, brought down every eyeball in the house with it —clank ! The boys cheered her until the plaster shivered on the walls.
The left side of the Garden was all Bergen, and ordinary tennis bugs. Mike’s political pals, mostly fat Irishers with foot-long cigars, squeezed into front rows. Stinky Fink, hatless like most elderly men vain of their beautiful white hair, posed joyously. We had seats front and centre, flanked by “the boys” and their girl friends. To my surprise, Rumple-puss Edgerton sat at the end of our row. He looked pretty sad at not being in command of a big tennis show, for the first time in his life. His wife and Mary were across the court —apparently they hadn’t even been able to corral three seats together. Around Mike, watchful and beady-eyed, circulated Thoiteen and the Babs, Jake and Louie. Thoiteen was still boiling.
Mike’s stable of hoarse-voiced wrestlers had been given ushers’ jobs. What they didn’t do to the customers was nobody’s affair ! “Hey, you, where you think you’re goin'? Sit down an’ shut up. You guys shove along, before I roll the lot of you. That goes for you, too, lady. Next, please.”
Buggsy Flynn’s collection of pugs, dips and strong-arm boys had been aw arded the vending privilege. They toured the packed aisles, shouting and shoving. "Getcha programs here, ladies an’ gents—one buck each. Sorry, mister, no change tonight—it all goes for charity! Getcha hot dogs —four bits a throw! Can’t change it now, lady—be back later!”
The hubbub was deafening. Photographers tried to get Mike and Buggsy to pose in a fraternal handshake. Both repulsed the idea savagely. “The only time you’ll get us together,” snapped Mike, “is when Pm looking at him in his casket.” We dragged them apart.
“Well,” said Mike, after counting the house and checking with the box office, “I guess we’re about set now'. Let her go, skipper.”
The leader of the fifty-piece band on the dais at one end of the arena tapped his rack. The band burst into “The Star Spangled Banner.” The audience rose, certain tardy ones being snatched upright by the patriotic ushers. When the anthem was concluded, clouds of white pigeons were released from hidden cages in the rafters. Tied to their tails were small American and German flags, which fluttered gaily. Another burst of music, and silk curtains parted.
A platoon of cuties in abbreviated silk track togs
marched out to take their stations at the ends of the court. These w'ere the ball girls, and their reception was deafening. A minute later the loud-speakers blared, “Silence, Please. Lights Out !” to the delight of the pickpockets. A moment later all spotlights centred on a small door at a corner of the Garden. The band hit the “St. Louis Blues,” the door popped open, and out burst the gladiators.
Our boys first, with bare legs and feet, in white shorts and polo shirts. Then Farnham and the Germans, in conventional snowy flannels. They dashed onto the court like a football team, Bill slinging his racket ahead of him in the old Tilden tradition. It was pounced on by a stout, fussy gentleman and closely scrutinized. It had been decided to shoot the works on one night, with three matches. Barney vs. Harold, Bill vs. Von Zach, and the doubles—our boys against the Germans.
MR. FARNHAM wins the toss,” cried the fussy gentleman. He clambered up on his high green seat, looking like a snowball on a stick. “Who is that bird, Mike?” 1 enquired. Mike looked around. “A Mr. AÍ Gustafson. Former official of the American Lawn Tennis Association. A man acceptable to both sides and—up till tonight—a fellow of unquestioned honesty.”
“You m ea n— he ’s— ah— been— er— ’ ’
“Yeah,” said Mike, rubbing his right thumb and forefinger together in a gesture understood the world over. “It may be close, but we can’t lose. They tell me there’s more dough up tonight than in years. We’ve got to take two out of three to win, though, at the odds.”
Edgerton and Holloway had begged to be put on a committee of some sort. So Mike let them measure the height of the net. This got them into range of the photographers who were snapping the players, and for a few minutes they looked almost happy. Then attendants threw white polo coats about the other players, escorted them to side-line seats, and Barney and Farnham began.
Goldie whispered, “I don’t like the looks of that kid, Steve. He’d give his right eye to be playing that Farnham guy—in front of Mary, too.” I followed her glance. Bill’s elbows were on his knees and he was staring absently at the floor between his feet, oblivious to the tumult.
“Where’s Mary?” I enquired. Goldie pointed across the court.
“She’s trying not to watch him, but she can’t help it. Gosh, isn’t youthful pride a terrible thing, Irish?” Almost with her words. Bill raised his eyes and they met Mary’s. The girl half raised her hand, then hesitated. Bill’s young face hardened; he looked away.
“That does it,” I sighed. “He’s cold as a Blue Point now. See how he watches Farnham.”
“Darn women!” muttered Goldie savagely. “They’re crazy as loons, all of ’em.” She blew her nose savagely, then powdered with an intense fury.
“Game to Mr. Farnham,” called the umpire.
The right side of the Garden burst into applause. But Barney, settling down, evened the score quickly. The Bronx gallery tore up newspapers and showered them like snow. From then on, the hubbub increased. Mike beamed. “Now this is the way this sissy game ought to be played, Irish. Sounds almost like the Polo Grounds, with them dopey Dodgers at bat, hey?”
“It’s getting to Harold.” I remarked. “He’s used to a reverent silence when he does his stuff. Look at the big stiff pout.” It was true. Harold was giving vent to those silly gestures and petulant little shrieks of annoyance in which even the most masculine tennis players indulge. It’s just part of the game, I guess.
A coarse voice yelled, “Hit it, ya yellow bum!” Harold served a wild double fault, then appealed to the umpire Suspending play, Mr. Gustafson piped, in his best Association voice, “Kindly refrain from comments until the rally is over.” He was met with a withering blast of hoots. A strident voice howled, “Aw nuts, Grammaw!” Poor Mr. Gustafson grew apoplectic, but finally signalled for play to proceed.
The tennis wras not of the quality which either man was capable of producing, though the exchanges w:ere fierce and long drawn out. The deciding break came in the third set. each man having annexed one. Harold held the lead, at four to three, when he charged in behind a deep forcing shot. Barney threw up a lob, which Farnham smashed with all his power. It struck outside the back line, by at least ten inches. Barney didn’t even attempt to play it. “Good!” yelled the linesman, souinting from his chair on the line.
Barney looked stunned. “Wh-what’s that?” he stuttered.
“I said, ‘Good,’ ” repeated the official, a hard-faced man in worn blue serge. “What did it sound like—‘Happy Boithday’?”
“Hey,” I said to Mike. "Who is that college professor?”
Mike looked sheepish. “Search me, Irish. You know, with all the things I had to do, I forgot to plant those birds on the lines.”
“Well, I guess Buggsy has taken care of it for you. But we’ve got the referee, so that makes it even.”
“ ‘Even’ isn’t good enough for me,” said Mike grimly. “Not with all this dough up.” When the bedlam abated, Barney simply couldn't pull himself together. Aided by two more flagrantly rancid decisions by the same expert, Farnham took the set at 6-4, and the first match along with it.
How the crowd howled! Poor Mr. Gustafson looked down at Mike and raised his pop eyes helplessly to heaven. Mike just stared at him, his mouth set like a turtle’s. When Mike stared at a man like that, that man’s ancestors shifted uneasily in their graves. Mr. Gustafson broke into a profuse bath of perspiration. Fights broke out in the cheap ten-dollar seats, until Cellofeet Howard lugged out four men at one grab and threw them downstairs into the lobby. Quiet prevailed after that.
T)ARNEY slung a towel over his head and dropped into U a seat by Bill. Lefty roughed up his head and told him to forget it. The Babs stared coldly across at Buggsy’s boys—they had bet their shirts and were spoiling for a row. Barney talked to Bill, who listened with no response save an occasional nod I could see Mary twisting a little handkerchief and giving impatient replies to the Battle-axe at her side. A hand hit my shoulder and I jumped up.
“Mr. DeMerrell !” I exclaimed. “Well, how do you like the show?”
“I wouldn’t take a year’s pay for what Holloway and Edgerton think !” he chuckled. “By the way, you won’t be needing a reserve linesman, will you? Those last few decisions, you know. I thought that—er—”
“Stick around.” said Mike, with an expansive wave. “Maybe we’ll need a replacement, the way things are going.”
Every few minutes, strangers would bob up in front of Mike and say. “How are you, Mr. Bergen?” Then he’d stick out his hand and plop!—he’d be holding a summons. But they didn’t bother Mike. He just wadded them up and hollered. "Hey, Stinky, here’s another! Catch.”
Old Mrs. Battle-axe Edgerton beckoned to Farnham, who was struggling into his white polo coat and knotting a canary yellow scarf around his throat. He loped across and she made room for him beside her. But Mary didn’t look happy—just kept watching Bill Goodall. who was now whacking the ball back and forth with Count von Zach.
Bill’s face was set and grim. He hit every shot with a vicious extra sting that boded ill for the graceful German. Never once did he glance toward Mary, though when he ran to that side of the court he could have touched her with his bat. Maybe he felt like it and didn’t dare try himself too severely. Comparative ouiet settled down. For here were perhaps the two best players in the world, at that moment, anyway. As they played it, tennis was a fascinating thing to watch—even the muggs who worshipped in fight camps and ball yards could feel some part of it. The court strategy was simple and apparent. The game became a fine duel of angles, changes of pace and speed. The dimmest half-wit in the top balcony could appreciate the efforts of a player, on the defensive, to extricate himself, turn attacker and force the play.
Bill won the toss and blasted out the first game. The count shook his head as two aces flashed past him into the backstop with a bang that frightened a ball girl into a little scream. “If that thing ever hitcha.” she said to a friend, “it would tear off your leg like a doll’s!”
The count set his jaw. He was a tough opponent when he really settled down and forgot the gallery. He knotted the score at four-all by some superlative retrieving, but Bill clubbed him down in two long games for the set. They got a great hand as they changed courts. “Play !” piped Mr. Gustafson.
The battle seesawed back and forth until the fifth game, when the blue serge linesman came into the picture again. At 4-3, Von Zach, holding the service, looped a lob over Bill’s head. Bill let it fall, intending to smash it at the top of its bounce. It landed outside by some four inches, within a foot of the back line. So Bill merely picked it up and batted it back to the count.
“Good!” shouted the linesman. He pointed to a spot well inside the court. “That ball was good.”
Bawling and catcalls rocked the Garden. In vain Mr. Gustafson rose on his perch and yelled for silence. In the midst of it all, Bill just stood, fists on hips, looking at the linesman, a hard grin on his face. The count pattered to the net, protesting that the point was at least doubtful and should be played again. Torn newspapers sailed through the air, along with caps and hats. Mike was entranced. “Boy, is this a show? Is this a show!”
An angry knot buzzed about Blue Serge. Val Andretta strolled past Bill, said something out of the corner of his mouth. Bill shook his head violently. “Look at him,” said Mike. “He wants to handle it himself, the fool.”
“Oh, shut up,” snapped Goldie. ‘The poor kid has enough on his mind as it is!”
From our side of the house, a steady pounding chant rose. ‘Take him out . . . take him out . . . take him out.” But after it was all over. Blue Serge was still sitting there, very red of face. Bill walked over to him. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like you to move your chair a little nearer. The lines at this corner seem to be getting kind of dim.” Blue Serge hitched his folding seat closer and settled his derby. About all you could see was his chin and his nose, which looked like a sponge.
TN DEFERENCE to tradition, the count threw the next *■ point to Bill. This drew a terrific hand from the mob, which always prides itself on this sort of pseudo-sportsmanship. But there was no stopping Von Zach on this game.
The next one, however, brought a fine innovation. Bill prolonged the rallies from the base line, neither man risking a foray to the net. “I don’t like it,” said Lefty Epstein, chewing his cigar to shreds. “He’s leavin’ his forehand court as open as an umbrella. That isn’t like Bill, no way at all.”
Hardly had he spoken when the count slashed a deep drive into Bill’s forehand corner. Plunging over like a deer, Bill swung at the ball, but it was past. Unable to stop, he crashed into Blue Serge like the 20th Century into a cat on a crate. The impact, they said later, was audible out on 8th Avenue. Over went Blue Serge, his chair splintering like matchwood. Bill fell on top, trying to brace himself with both fists. It looked from where we sat like quite a bit of bracing. They slid clean under the first two rows, upsetting six couples with a thunderous crash.
“Let ’em up, let ’em up,” yelled the cops. They finally cleared the scene. Bill was all apologies, but Blue Serge didn’t hear a word—he was out.
"A stretcher case,” said Mike admiringly. “What a boy —I didn’t think he had it in him !”
Appointing a successor was quite a problem. Mike and Buggsy debated it angrily in the centre of the court, backed by glowering alternates. But even the gamblers were surprised when Mike generously suggested, “We ain’t getting anywhere. Let’s let the amachoors pick a guy— they hate the both of us.”
G. Warfield Edgerton III and Carter Holloway conferred importantly. They then announced that Mr. Richard K. DeMerrell had kindly consented to serve as successor to the late incumbent, Mr. Butch Antolini. Buggsy growled, “He isn’t your uncle, is he, Mike?” Cooler heads prevented a violent collision.
At two sets each, Mr. Gustafson Juegan to earn his pay. He called a couple of wide ones that caused Von Zach to raise his eyebrows. Kreutz whistled. The Flynn faction howled. “You big tramp, you! How much you getting?” Even the well-trained social folk began to get into the spirit of the occasion; they had probably wanted to act naturally all their lives at a tennis match. A portly gentleman rose, shaking with rage and brandy. Waving his fist, he bawled, “You astigmatic popinjay! Who’s paying your annuities—Mr. Michael Bergen?” The mob gave him a great ovation on that sixteen-cylinder insult. Even Mary smiled fleetingly. Play proceeded.
Mike got tense; his face like steel. We simply had to have this one. Bill let down a bit, the count attacked with new fury. Games followed service. At four all, Bill ripped a beautiful backhand placement across the court. It hit right in front of Mary and Farnham. A forecourt linesman yapped, “Out—by a foot!” That drew a laugh; it was something new in an official viewpoint. Mr. DeMerrell, on the next stripe, shouted, “Good ! That ball was inside— that much!” Bedlam broke loose. Harold Farnham jumped up. He grabbed DeMerrell by the lapel and cried, “You mind your own assignment! That shot was out—I saw it myself.”
Bill stood, panting. He glanced at Mary, and in his bitter glance there was an unspoken challenge. “Well, why don’t you join in, too? Why don’t you back up your Harold? Go on—tell ’em it was out.” The girl’s eyes fought back for a moment, then she tossed her head.
“Harold!” Her clear young voice snapped like a whip “Come back here. You know perfectly well that that shot was good!”
“Mary, you sit down!” snapped Mrs. Edgerton. No one noticed.
Bill was speechless. Her defiant eyes stung his face for a second as though to say, “So, you thought I’d lie too, did you? Well, you can’t tell me what to do—you or anybody else!”
Involuntarily, he took half a step toward her. But Mary was patting her aunt’s arm and telling her to be quiet and relax, for heaven’s sake. She didn’t even look up again. Then Gustafson ruled the point in favor of Bill and trumpeted “Play!”
That snapped Bill out of it with a vengeance. He was like a panther. He broke Von Zach’s service, exploded a series of scorching serves, and took the game with the loss
of a single point. Tennis experts wrote, next day: “It is improbable that any player living could have withstood Goodall’s final raking assault.”
One match each, now, and the stage set for the doubles. “A fifteen-minute intermission,” boomed a metallic vóice from the loud-speakers, “will be allowed the contestants. At this time, may we remind you that winter is the season when colds and germs are most orevalent. At the fist sign of a sneeze or a sniffle, then, go to your good old neighborhood druggist and ask him for a ten-cent box of ‘SNIFFLETS.’ ”
I stared at Mike in dumb admiration. “A sponsor,” I said weakly. “For a tennis match. Mike, how did you ever think of such a thing?”
“Have a cigar,” he smiled. “For money, Irish, I can think of anything.”
T STROLLED out for a smoke. Not since the crazy days of prohibition had such a mixing of society been seen. Young bloods who spent the old folks’ dough in night clubs . . . muffin-faced pugs . . . girls whose beauty numbed your senses. When I carne back in, the doubles were on, K reutz serving.
People have since told me that they felt trouble in their bones that night. I know I did. The two singles, with all their bitter feeling, were merely so much mounting fuel awaiting the inevitable match. Any match, you felt, would be enough to ignite the passions generated over the past few months. Especially since the gambling fraternity had taken over the thing. Nobody knows how much had been staked by T-Bone Dexter and other big Broadway fanciers. But it was an enormous sum—one that could mean ruin or endless luxury for those who had risked it.
“Cross your fingers,” said Mike. “I’m not sure, but it looks to me like more and more cops are quietly oozing in on our party. So hold your caps.”
“And don’t forget to duck,” added Goldie. She detached her necklace and rings when nobody was watching, and slipped them into her stocking top. It made me kind of nervous, for Goldie wasn’t the timorous type.
A great roar swelled up then—Kreutz had polished off the first game with a cannonball ace on Barney. But Bill surged right back. The Germans could do no more than pop up returns on his delivery, and these Barney smashed for winners.
Games followed service, with both teams wound up like coil springs. The boys tried hard—too hard—in the next, and overdrove the lines.
“Set to Kreutz and Von Zach!” barked Mr. Gustafson, amid deafening noise. Bill and Barney, on a word from Lefty, now centred their fire on Kreutz. His game was the weaker of the two, and he finally began to crumble. As he did so, the count became overanxious. He kept poaching on his partner’s territory, with the result that he left his own sector exposed for devastating counters.
In no time, they had the set at 6-1. It looked easy. But the start of the third changed all that. With games deadlocked at two each, our boys began to limp. They had got so used to playing barefooted that shoes seemed cumbersome. They had never put them on, indeed, save on a wet grass court.
“What’s wrong?” muttered Mike anxiously. “Floor too hard?”
“Search me,” I replied. “They’ve been playing indoors for weeks now.”
At last, in a rush for a soft trap shot, Bill fell headlong. He doubled up, holding a foot. Barney limped up. Lefty ran out, followed by the Babs. “What’s up. Bill?”
Bill’s face twisted. “Splinters, or something,” he gasped. “I feel like I’m all cut.” Lefty examined the foot, picked out something as Bill shut his eyes tight. Lefty then brushed the court with his hand. He whirled on Buggsy Flynn.
“Tacks!” he yelled. “You dirty, lowdownrats! TACKS!” Officials swarmed out. There was no doubt of it. A dusting of tiny upholstery tacks had been flung out in an endeavor to cripple our forces and win the match through default. Mr. Gustafson announced the finding, his voice vibrant with passionate indignation. Buggsy Flynn jumped to his feet.
“I de-ny every-thing!” he howled. “I wouldn’t put it past Mike Bergen to do it himself, in the effort to—to—” “To discredit the opposition,” prompted Stedberg, his word man.
‘This case will be taken to the highest tri-bunal in the land!” roared De Witt Clinton Fink, shaking his finger under Buggsy’s nose.
“Knock his block off, Whitey,” urged a foghorn voice. “QUIET!” howled Mr. Gustafson, who enjoyed the advantage of the loud-speaker system. “QUIET! Clear the court—or there will be no match.”
This finally brought a semblance of order. A doctor treated the boys while attendants swept the canvas and the band played swing. Light sneakers were hastily procured, and the match continued to an undercurrent of mutters from all sides, like guns blundering on the horizon.
“One more item like that,” said Mike, “and there’ll be the devil to pay.”
“Your tense is wrong,” I said. “The devil’s to pay right now. Look at the way the customers are crowding the sidelines.”
Goldie said to me, “Did you see Mary jump up? She was going right out there to look after Bill, but old Battle-axe pulled her back. I tell you, Steve, she’s still crazy about that kid. And I think it’s wonderful —don’t you, dar-ling?”
“Don’t,” begged Mike, “yap about love at a time like this! We’re apt to get our blocks knocked off before you can spit!”
WE LED AT four to three when the dynamite finally exploded. The count had served. He was off for the net when Gustafson cracked, “Foot fault!” Consternation ensued. Most of the gallery didn’t know a foot fault from a package of com flakes. They howled. They threw things. The count gave Gustafson his Sunday glare. Bill grinned. Incensed, Von Zach toed the line and cracked another. “Foot fault!” piped Gustafson again. “Game to—”
That was his final word of the night. A veritable hail of missiles descended upon him. The Germans rushed the net, where they grappled Bill and Barney in a furious melee.
“Here we go!” yelled Mike, spitting on his hands. By the time we fought our way to the court, it was a raging mass of men. Women screamed, many fainting like wheat before the knife. I saw Bill Goodall land one on Farnham’s jaw before the wave engulfed them. A dignified oldster broke an exquisite ebony stick on Jake’s skull, and received a rousing chop on the nose which sent him reeling.
Mike slugged this way and that, a demoniac grin lighting his face. He was a terror in a mix-up. Police whistles shrilled.
“Right — this —way, mugg!” howled Buggsy, over the bedlam.
“Don’t run yet!” bellowed Mike. “I want to give you a running start !”
They collided like wild bulls. Mike went down, then rose to send Buggsy sprawling like a wet mosquito against the high chair in which the unconscious Mr. Gustafson slumbered, oblivious to the inferno below. Another right to Buggsy’s satchel jaw, with Mike following close. Then they vanished, fists flailing, beneath the crush. The whole thing looked like a movie of a nightmare.
I caught a flash of Thoiteen as he hit Stub Farley in the mouth with a piece of the net post. That would kill Stub, I thought, who was inordinately proud of his beautiful teeth. Then someone hit Thoiteen. I jumped on Stedberg’s back and we fell together. On the floor, I got an arm around his neck, but he twisted and sank his teeth into my wrist.
Feet trampled us and bodies fell across yus, accompanied by yells and groans. We got separated, which was all right with me. Crawling on hands and knees, I bucked through a forest of churning legs until I ran head-on into Bill—shirt in ribbons. “Mary,” he screamed. “Mary!” But she was lost in the maelstrom. Fear gripped me as I stood on tiptoe, craning my neck. If she were hurt, the kid would just die.
“My gosh!” croaked a voice. “And to think this holocaust sprang from tennis!” It was Rum pie-puss Edgerton, minus his dinner coat, one eye closed for the night. I grinned at him over my nose, which was blooming like a chrysanthemum “Shall I get a photographer?” He raised a fist to hit me, groaned, and sat down weakly on the floor.
I thought of Mary again, and Goldie, and stood up on a chair. Outside, police and ambulance sirens droned their calamitous howls; streams of detectives were pouring in.
“Hey, Steve!” yelled a thick voice. “Steve! Have you see Mary?” It was Bill.
He was full of fight yet, standing just below me. I started down, wincing with new aches, when Harold Farnham loped up behind and swung one at him, right from the floor. “Look out!” I yelled. Instinctively, Bill flung up an arm. But
the punch would have caught him flush had not Mary appeared from nowhere, like an avenging fury. She caught up the leg of a broken camp chair and swung it like a brassie, all in one motion. Down went Farnham. Bill stood there stupidly.
“You big—dumb—thing!” cried Mary, stamping her foot at Bill. Sudden tears, angry tears, coursed down her face. “Why don’t you watch out? He might have killed—oh—Bill—I—I’m-—” she swayed over in a dead faint before the kid could even catch her.
THREE DAYS elapsed before the Doc would even let me go out on the street. “You just can’t, man. Why, you can’t even see over your own nose—you’ll walk into automobiles and get killed.”
I went, though. I had to see Mike. Things were not working out so well, if you could believe the papers. He had taken quite a personal shellacking, too. Instead of the faithful Babs, two tough young coppers were sitting outside his door in the hospital. I hobbled up.
“How are things at Gettysburg, soldier?” grinned one.
“Never mind the station house nifties,” I grunted. “How’s Mike Bergen?”
“Resting uncomfortably, as they say,” informed the first. “One broken arm. One concussion that would have cracked a fire hydrant. Five teeth missing. Minor cuts and contusions—they’re still adding ’em up. And thirty-three charges waiting from the D.A. when and if the bail is set.” The door opened and there stood Goldie. “Hello, Irish. Come in. Please pardon the informality. We’ve just moved in and we’re still a little upset.”
Mike lay in bed, bandaged like one of the Pharaohs. Strips of adhesive converted his pan into a field for tick-tacktoe. His right arm lay rigid between splints. But the old fire gleamed in his good eye.
“Well, roll me out!” I exclaimed. “How you feeling, Hesperus?”
“I’m coming along,” said Mike, lisping a trifle self-consciously on account of the missing five. “Know any other parlor games you’d like to promote?”
I sat down—gingerly. Across the room stood a huge horseshoe of pink roses on a wire standard.
“That’s from Buggsy,” said Goldie. “He’s in another ward.”
“He’s worse off than me,” said Mike, with wan satisfaction. “I broke his jaw in two places and somebody jumped on his stummick. His left ankle is busted, too. He ain’t so tough, that Buggsy.”
“Yeah,” said Goldie, with a wink at me. “He’s different from us. We can take it, we can. WeH—it was one noble experiment, all right.”
The room was filled with flowers. Letters and telegrams spilled out of baskets onto the floor. “The papers say,” I remarked, after an awkward pause, “that no one was killed. That’s one good thing, anyway.” “That’s right,” nodded Mike. “The race is getting tougher; you can’t tell me different. But I never thought it would take a sissy game like that to prove it to me. Or to tip over my apple cart, either. Show Irish those wires, kid—no, in that other basket. Those are summonses. Can’t you tell a summons?”
“If I can’t,” countered Goldie, “it won’t be because I.’ve never seen one. We’ve got enough to paper a house— if we ever get a house.”
“What’s the general charge?” I asked. Mike waved his good fin.
“Oh, they start with ‘Inciting a Riot’ and end with ‘Operating Illegal Devices.’ In between there’s ‘Carrying Concealed Weapons’ and—”
“Can’t Stinky swing them?”
“Afraid not, Irish. Stinky’s in the pokey now. He’s been careless about his income tax, they tell me. Imagine that in a lawyer.”
Goldie tossed me a wireless message. It was from Bill and Mary.
“They’re on a boat,” she said dreamily, “bound for that island in the Pacific. She’s using that cheque Mike gave lier for boat fare. And she told me, just before they were married, that she was afraid the shock of an announcement would kill her old aunt, who wanted her to marry that social Farnham, can y’ imagine? But after Mary saw Battle-axe bop an egg who tried to grab her pearls at the Garden, well—she knew that nothing short of a cannon could dent the old girl. Then, when she saw Bill about to be crowned by Farnham, she just couldn’t stand it—aunt or no aunt!”
“Sure,” said Mike. “Battle-axe was just using the old weak heart gag to keep Mary from leaving her—hoping she’d fall for that cream puff Harold in time. Lots of women do it. But tell him about the Germans, Goldie. Gee, that’s a hot one!” Goldie grinned.
“They finally escaped from the Garden, their clothes in ribbons. They jumped into a cab and told the driver not to stop till he crossed the Canadian border. They’re on a boat now, bound for Berlin. If the stories they’re giving out to the press don’t bring on a war between us and them—nothing ever will!”
I had to laugh at the picture, though it made my whole face ache.
“Where’s Thoiteen and the Babs?” “There’s another hot one,” chuckled Mike. “Ooh—ouch! The cops threw
Thoiteen and Stub Farley into the same cell, and they kept right on fighting. They say it was some show—all the neighbors cheering like mad. And the Babs, you can’t stop those screwballs.” I asked what he meant by that.
“They pulled the old hat trick on some bird in their corridor. And who do you think he was?” I shook my head. “Carter Holloway’s lawyer! He was in there arranging bail for Holloway. Ain’t that sumplhing?”
‘Barney’s going to get married next week,” remarked Goldie, fingering an announcement. “The very minute he gets out of the hospital, so Rosie says. How do you like that?” I said I liked it fine. Then, after an interval of silence, for we were each busy with our own thoughts, I asked Mike if he wanted me to do anything else. He started violently.
“No!” he exclaimed in sudden fright. “Just don’t do anything. Just let everything rest—it’s out of your hands now, anyway. I’m letting all my interests, well, slide—you might say—for a year or two.” “Yes,” said Goldie, taking his hand. v “We’re going to sit the next one out, aren’t we, Snooks?”
“Don’t you call me ‘Snooks’!” roared Mike. “Oh—my arm !”
I got up to leave.
GOLDIE hooked my arm as we walked to the door. When we were out of earshot she sighed. “Gee, I’m glad this is over, Steve. I’ve been hoping Mike would get clear for five years now. And I’ll be able to call on him, they tell me, while he’s—well—sitting it out. You call, too, won’t you, Steve? Mike’s awfully fond of you—he always did have a taste for low company.” But her blue eyes were misty.
“So I’ve noticed,” I said. That brought her out.
“You Irish punk,” she grinned. “Get out of here. You never were any good.” When I got home, feeling kind of hollow inside, the desk clerk said, “There’s an old gent here, with a shiner t-h-a-t big. He wouldn’t talk to me.”
“Okay,” I said. “What can I lose— now?” Then I limped into the living room. G. Warfield Edgerton III rose, with visible embarrassment. He looked like a dapper old rooster who had been pecked in the eye. I couldn’t hold back a grin.
“How are you?” I said. “I don’t see
how you’ve lived this long, from my own brief association with this game of yours.” He harrumphed and eyed me severely. “Sit down, won’t you?” I said. “Have a cigarette.”
“This has been a terrible, terrible experience,” he said, shuddering in retrospect. “Shocking, in every regard. And no prospects in sight for next year’s Cup squad, even.”
I said nothing.
“Racketeers and malefactors intruding their presence into the game,” he went on. “We simply can’t have it. No. We can’t have it.”
“Well,” I remarked, “we have had it. So what?”
“I merely called to enquire if you think that this young chap with whom my niece appears to have become enamored—
“You mean ‘married,’ don’t you?” I cut in.
He harrumphed again.
“Yes, of course. He’s the—er—the right sort, you think, Mr. McRuddy?”
The old gent’s concern was rather appealing, with that eye and all.
“The very Tightest, ” I said with emphasis. “They’re both right—you can take my word for that and stencil it in your hatband, Pop.”
That set him off again.
“Your word, indeed! After all that has happened—oh well, it’s done with now. And I must admit he seemed a decent sort, aside from the company he was thrown with. And what a game! Another thing I have been thinking of, quite incidentally.” He was one of those men who never say “quite incidentally” unless the subject was the most important one in his life at the moment. “What are your own—er— plans for the future?”
“Well, I’d like to marry an heiress,” I said. “Only I don’t happen to know one. Aside from that, I have no plans, except to regain what health I used to have.”
He eyed me as a white leghorn might eye a grain of corn before deciding to snap it up. “I have been thinking,” lie said, “a lot about tennis. Not this dreadful professional business, you understand, but the amateur game. The real game. Out of this frightful mess, certain things have become apparent to me. And—I might add—to other men who have the good of the game at heart. We feel that it needs a definite promotion, of a dignified yet dramatic kind, you understand It needs, in a word, ‘popularizing’ among the thousands who play it only occasionally. Do you follow me, Mr. McRuddy?”
“Are you offering me the job?” I enquired.
He cleared his throat with the noise of a falling tree. “Not so fast now, not so fast. We are holding the matter for general discussion. But I might say that both Holloway and I are favorably—”
“Sorry,” I cut in. “And thanks. But I’m all through with things I don’t know about. From now on. I’m sticking to things that go right on, all year round— the Promotion of the Body Beautiful, sir. Burlesque is coming back. In the night clubs, in vaudeville, in—”
“Well, all right,” he said, and rose. “Maybe you’re wise, at that. And if you do get going again, in that line, I don’t suppose that you could arrange to er—” “Send you two tickets?” I grinned, at the old familiar refrain. “Most certainly. You’ve as good as got them, right now.” He limped to the door, turned, and I would have bet my bottom dollar that I could take the next words right out of his mouth.
“Could you —er—”
“Mark them ‘Personal,’ sir?”
He gaped at me. “How did you know I was going to say that?”
“Every man does,” I grinned.